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Natalie Coughlin: Professional swimmer, amateur gorilla-watcher

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Fresh off her history-making performance in London that saw her tie Dara Torres’ and Jenny Thompson’s all-time Olympic medals total of 12 (the most for a U.S. female), Natalie Coughlin wants to keep swimming at age 30.

We caught up with Coughlin and talked about working out, her recent trip to Africa – where she proudly wore her Oakland Raiders hat in the jungle – and a whole lot more. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation:

How much swimming and training are you doing?
I’ve been lifting, running and swimming. I haven’t formally started training with the team yet, but I have been working out on my own. I’m swimming five days a week … not over 5,000 [meters a day].

When will you start competing again?
I have no idea. I’m still trying to figure out my meet schedule. But I’ll definitely be at Santa Clara [Grand Prix in early June] and World Championships Trials [in late June].

You do a lot of running. Ever think of going the Brendan Hansen route and doing triathlons?
The whole cycling thing freaks me out. Being on the road with cars … when I’m in my own car I don’t trust other drivers. If there were run-swims, I would do those.
Editor’s note: Natalie, try an aquathlon.

Did it really take you 45 hours to travel to Rwanda for your recent trip with Right to Play?
We ended up having mechanical issues in Chicago that ruined the rest of our flight. We flew from San Francisco to Chicago, then Chicago to Brussels. And originally we were supposed to fly from Brussels to Kigali [Rwanda] but because we missed that connection, and that connection only happens twice a week, we couldn’t get a flight. So we ended up having this 10-hour layover in Brussels, and then we flew Brussels to Paris, Paris to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and then Entebbe, Uganda to Rwanda.

We missed the first day of only a five-day trip. The day we landed, two hours later we had a press conference. Whenever I wasn’t speaking I was dozing off in front of all these reporters. I was at the point of absolute exhaustion.

Tell us about the gorillas you saw in Rwanda.
I will admit, there were times when I accepted that I might get completely mauled by gorillas. [laughs] A toddler gorilla kicked me and ran off. The alpha silverback came to me and brushed up against me. I was trying to look at the ground, look anywhere but in his eyes.

What else stood out during the trip?
I had my big camera and I’m taking all these photos of the kids. Everywhere we went, they were so excited to see us. They were signing and dancing and including us in all the Right to Play games. The kids … would ask me to take pictures of them so they could see their photos. It was because they don’t have mirrors; they don’t know what they look like.

If you retired tomorrow, would you be satisfied?
I don’t think I can ever be satisfied with my career, but I’m extremely proud of it. I’m proud of what I’ve done. But half the reason that I’m continuing is that I still have goals for myself. That being said, if this all gets taken away from me somehow I will continually be proud of it and I’ll be OK with moving on. I love doing this, so why not?

Right to Play is an international organization dedicated to using sport and play to empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities. Read more at righttoplay.com.

Five events to watch at Prefontaine Classic; broadcast schedule

Vashti Cunningham
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The Prefontaine Classic fields are so stacked that it is the best Diamond League meet so far this season, even with the reported absences of Allyson FelixGenzebe Dibaba, Matthew Centrowitz and Galen Rupp.

In addition to Olympic sprint champion headliners Shelly-Ann Fraser-PryceJustin GatlinSanya Richards-Ross and LaShawn Merritt, the meet features duels between reigning Olympic and World champions in multiple events.

The Diamond League’s lone trip to the U.S. doubles as the best gauge of form this spring ahead of the U.S. Olympic Trials (July 1-10).

The annual meet in Eugene, Ore., is a Friday-Saturday affair:

Friday
USATF.TV — 11:20 p.m. ET

Saturday
NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra — 3:30-5 p.m. ET
NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra — 5-6 p.m. ET

Here are the start lists. Here is the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Friday
9:55 p.m. — Men’s hammer throw
11:11 — Women’s long jump
11:15 — Women’s discus
11:18 — Men’s shot put
11:37 — Women’s 800m
11:53 — Men’s 10,000m
12:27 a.m. (Saturday) — Women’s 5000m

Saturday
3:15 p.m. — Men’s triple jump
3:18 — Men’s pole vault
3:33 — Men’s 110m hurdles
3:42 — Men’s mile
3:53 — Women’s 100m
4:03 — Men’s 400m hurdles
4:09 — Women’s high jump
4:12 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
4:26 — Men’s 800m
4:32 — Men’s javelin
4:35 — Men’s 400m
4:43 — Men’s 5000m
5:04 — Women’s 200m
5:13 — Men’s 100m
5:22 — Women’s 1500m
5:33 — Women’s 100m hurdles
5:42 — Women’s 400m
5:51 — Men’s Bowerman Mile

Here are five events to watch (all times Eastern):

Women’s long jump — Friday, 11:11 p.m.

The most loaded field event of the meet. It includes five of the six women to earn medals at the 2012 Olympics and 2015 World Championships, with the lone absentee a Russian who is ineligible to compete due to the country’s ban.

It’s headlined by Olympic champion Brittney Reese and World champion Tianna Bartoletta, both Americans. There’s also reigning World silver and bronze medalists Shara Proctor of Great Britain and Ivana Španović of Serbia and U.S. Olympic bronze medalist Janay DeLoach.

Men’s pole vault — Saturday, 3:18 p.m.

The U.S. is suddenly a factor in this event, after Sam Kendricks became the first American man to win a Diamond League contest on May 14 in Shanghai. The 23-year-old Kendricks has the highest clearance in the world this year at 5.92 meters, higher than anybody from the 2015 World Championships and any American since 2008.

In Eugene, Kendricks will face Olympic champion and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France and World champion Shawn Barber of Canada in a rematch of Shanghai.

Women’s high jump — Saturday, 4:09 p.m.

World Indoor champion Vashti Cunningham is the star here. The 18-year-old daughter of retired NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Randall Cunningham could be an Olympic medal favorite, especially if Russians aren’t allowed to compete in Rio.

Russians took two of three medals at the 2012 Olympics and the 2015 World Championships.

Without them in Eugene, Cunningham could very well beat a field that includes 2013 World bronze medalist Ruth Beitia of Spain and 2005 World silver medalist Chaunté Lowe, a strong opponent for Cunningham at the Olympic Trials on July 3. Lowe is 14 years older than Cunningham. Beitia is 19 years older.

Men’s 100m — Saturday, 5:13 p.m.

Three of the five fastest men of all time line up here in Justin GatlinTyson Gay and Asafa Powell, who were all born in 1982 and likely all seeking one last Olympics in Rio.

Joining them is Andre De Grasse, the 21-year-old Canadian who shared bronze at August’s World Championships behind Usain Bolt and Gatlin.

Gatlin will be the favorite, given he is 31-2 in individual sprints since the start of 2014 with the only losses coming to Bolt at Worlds last summer.

Women’s 100m hurdles — Saturday, 5:33 p.m.

With six Americans in the field of eight, this is arguably the closest event to a U.S. Olympic Trials field. It includes six of the seven fastest women in the world last year.

Only the top three at the Olympic Trials on July 8 make the team for Rio. The top finishers Saturday among 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper-Nelson, 2013 World champion Brianna RollinsNia AliKeni HarrisonSharika Nelvis and Jasmin Stowers will become favorites to make Team USA.

MORE: Usain Bolt set to race two biggest Jamaican rivals

Slovakia eyes Peter Sagan in mountain bike at Olympics

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Peter Sagan, the reigning World road race champion, could also compete in mountain biking at the Rio Olympics if the Slovakian Cycling Federation has its way.

The federation requested a second Olympic mountain bike quota spot specifically for Sagan, in addition to the one it earned through results from its regular mountain bikers. It awaits a response from the International Cycling Union (UCI).

“We think, if Peter will present in MTB cross-country in Rio, it would be a benefit to all cycling, not only for Slovakia,” a Slovakian Cycling Federation official said in an email. “However, it depends on the terms of the UCI.”

Sagan won the World junior title in mountain biking at age 18 in 2008 before focusing primarily on road racing. He did compete in two mountain bike events earlier this year.

Sagan has entered four Tours de France and won the green jersey in all of them as the top sprinter, amassing four individual stage wins along the way. He also owns four Vuelta a España stage wins.

He was 34th in his Olympic debut at the London 2012 road race.

No cyclist has earned Olympic road and mountain bike medals.

Slovakia owns zero Olympic cycling medals since splitting from the Czech Republic starting with Atlanta 1996.

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